B. Johnson still not connecting with Belichick


The mystery surrounding New England Patriots wide receiver-kick returner Bethel Johnson should begin to clear for today's showdown with the Seattle Seahawks. Then again, maybe not.

Johnson, a second-year prodigy from Texas A&M;, was deactivated for last week's game against Miami, even though the Patriots were depleted by injuries at receiver. Reports surfaced that it was because of a poor week of practice, but coach Bill Belichick wouldn't confirm or deny the speculation.

Johnson eventually told reporters that motivational ploys "don't work for me," and suggested he didn't know what brought about Belichick's discontent. "I have no idea, really," Johnson said. "I just go out and do my job. If you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't."

Belichick seemed shocked that Johnson missed the point. "I have a hard time understanding how he could say that," the coach said. "That is all I have to say."

Another motivational ploy might be on the way.

By the way, thanks

Awash in rhetoric between Philadelphia's Terrell Owens and Carolina's Ricky Manning for today's game, the Eagles are poised to demonstrate how much improved they are this season. And they have the Panthers' mouthy cornerback to thank.

Manning's three interceptions spirited Carolina to a 14-3 win in the NFC championship game last January, when the Eagles' starting receivers (Todd Pinkston and James Thrash) combined for one catch for 9 yards. That helped persuade Eagles coach Andy Reid to go after Owens in the offseason.

The Eagles had just 289 yards in total offense in the playoff loss. This year, they're averaging 387.

Fourth and never

Dallas coach Bill Parcells has a reputation for gambling on fourth down, but he admits he goofed when he went for it on fourth-and-one at his 43-yard line in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' 26-10 loss to the New York Giants last week.

Trailing 16-10 with 10 minutes left, the Cowboys attempted a dump-off pass to fullback Darian Barnes that went for no gain. Parcells said he was trying to give the team some momentum. "Retrospectively, I'd say it was stupid," he said.

Parcells also went for it on fourth-and-one at the Giants' 5-yard line in the first quarter, eschewing the automatic field goal. The Cowboys failed to make it there, too. Not a good day for the future Hall of Fame coach.

Drawing the line

Two coaches were put on notice in the wake of losses last week. In Buffalo, owner Ralph C. Wilson ripped the offense of new coach Mike Mularkey after the Bills lost to the New York Jets and fell to 0-4.

"I thought we played lackluster," Wilson said. "It was very, very tough to watch this offense. I mean, I've watched this game for 60 years. I've heard all the cliches about how we fought back hard. Baloney. If you think I'm going to be smiling that we ... fought back, baloney."

In New Orleans, general manager Mickey Loomis threatened changes in the wake of a loss to Tampa Bay. The Saints are one of nine teams that have missed the playoffs each of the past three years.

"I don't know if the timing was right when you're 2-3, but the message is understood," said coach Jim Haslett, whose contract runs through 2006.

Distant challenge

Dan Marino can't feel their hot breath yet, but the Hall of Fame quarterback knows Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning are up to something.

Culpepper has thrown 13 touchdown passes in four games, a pace that would give him 52 for the season and topple Marino's NFL record of 48, set in 1984. Manning has thrown for 14 touchdowns in five games, on pace for 45.


Marcus Stroud, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars last year, was moved to end last week to improve the team's pass rush. But coach Jack Del Rio was reconsidering after the Jaguars were shredded for 176 rushing yards by San Diego. ... Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry since breaking a 64-yard run on his first carry for the team. ... Former Ravens quarterback Chris Redman had surgery in July for a torn labrum in his shoulder and expects to get a tryout in the next few weeks. ... Seattle receiver Koren Robinson has seven drops in four games, but won't lose his starting spot in the lineup. ... The Cleveland Browns haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the first half this season, and haven't gotten a first down on any of their first possessions through five games. The Kansas City Chiefs, meanwhile, are the only team to score on their first possession in every game this year with three touchdowns and a field goal. ... The Arizona Cardinals are 1-4 for the seventh time since moving to the desert in 1988. ... The San Francisco 49ers have been outscored 48-3 in the first quarter.

Final word

Tampa Bay wide receiver Keenan McCardell, seeking a jump of nearly $2 million in his contract this year, remains a holdout from the Buccaneers. He blames general manager Bruce Allen and coach Jon Gruden for the stalemate.

"I'd say I'm dealing with two irrational people who don't want to do what's good for the team," McCardell said. "It's about ego now. It's about pride. Anybody who wants to spite a person, it's about their ego."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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